Cynsational News

Cynsations reporter Traci Sorell checks proofs of her debut picture book.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Robin Galbraith & Gayleen Rabukukk

Author/Illustrator Insights

Kate DiCamillo: How She Became a Bestseller after 473 Rejection Letters by Linda Morris for The Sydney Morning Herald. Peek:

DiCamillo often makes a game of asking children to guess her number of knockbacks [rejections]. 

‘They start with five or 10. And then they will get really excited and say ’50’. And I’m like ‘nope, nope, nope’. Some kid will always say, ‘Well, why did you keep going’?’”

Nicola Yoon, Author of ‘The Sun Is Also a Star,’ on Her Writing and Publishing Journey by J.D. Myall from Writer’s Digest. Peek:

“Let your freak flag fly. Your odd, quirky, unique voice is what makes your story special. Be who you want, and be joyful.”

Interview with Author N. H. Senzai by Jacqueline Houtman from From the Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:

“As Americans, whether we consciously realize it or not, we have a particular connection with refugees; at one point of time, most of our families sought refuge in this country. They arrived from all around the world, fleeing war, persecution, famine or just hoping to find a better life for themselves and their children.”

PW KidsCast: A Conversation with Christopher Paul Curtis by John Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

Christopher Paul Curtis discusses his new novel, The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic, 2018), as well as his past Buxton novels and the effect that his Newbery Award and Honors have had on his career.”

Rocking Out with Celia Pérez by Julie Danielson from Kirkus. Peek:

“I’d tell you the first rule of punk, as laid out in Celia C. Pérez’s novel of the same name, but then I’d want you to read this entertaining book for yourself to find out.” 

Note: Congrats to Celia her 2018 Pura Belpré Honor Book!

Jason Reynolds on Serving Young Readers with Long Way Down by Trevor Noah from The Daily Show. (links to video) Peek:

Long Way Down author Jason Reynolds describes his path to becoming a prolific writer and makes the case for expanding the literary canon to reach more kids.”


A book to use in goal setting.

Culturally Responsive Approaches to Goal Setting with Students by Lindsay Barrett from Lee & Low Books. Peek:

“Engaging students in self-driven goal setting, planning and completion of action steps, and reflection are powerful practices for culturally responsive classrooms.”

In 2018, How Does Using Diverse Children’s Books Factor Into Conversations with Kids about Race? by Crystal Duan from The Riveter. Peek:

“A book doesn’t have to be conspicuously about race to allow conversation either, Gibney says. ‘You can get a book about ballerinas, and have a conversation about race that book, either because the book features people of color or because it doesn’t.'”

Resolutions, Role Models, Big Changes and News! by Lindsey McDivitt from A is for Aging, B is for Books. Peek:

“Those of you who read this A is for Aging blog on a regular basis realize this post is far more personal than most. I started this website and blog because I believe strongly that it’s important we show even young children strong role models of every age.”

Kweli: The Color of Children’s Literature Conference (for IPOC) will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 7 at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan, New York City. Peek:

“… keynote address by MacArthur ‘Genius’ Angela Johnson, and panels and workshops with award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors and illustrators Samira Ahmed, Julie Flett, Rita Williams-Garcia, Vashiti Harrison, Kazu Kibuishi, Javaka Steptoe and Nic Stone. …four separate tracks this year: a Publishing Track, a Novel Track, an Illustrated Books & Nonfiction Track and a new Intensives Track. Our panels and workshops will cover topics from the craft to the business of writing. Top editors, agents, and authors will discuss crucial steps to help launch a writer’s career and offer carefully considered manuscript critiques. Critiques will run concurrently with panels, and books will be available for sale and signing.”

What the Job of a Sensitivity Reader Is Really Like by Lila Shapiro from Vulture. Peek from Dhonielle Clayton:

“The fact is that sensitivity reading is a band-aid over a hemorrhaging problem in our industry. That’s what we should really be talking about — that’s what real censorship looks like. The systematic erasure and blockage of people of color from the publishing industry.” 

‘People of Color in Publishing’: Striving for More Industry Diversity by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“A particular focus of the committee is on reaching out to individuals of diverse backgrounds who are working to break into the business. ‘During our first meeting, we discussed where we’re from and how we got into publishing, and realized we all had nontraditional but similar stories.’”

Celebrating 20 Years! 20 Years of Increasing Awareness & Visibility of Issues in Indian Country from Udall Foundation. Peek:

“It has been 20 years since [Cherokee children’s author and Cynsations reporter] Traci McCellan-Sorell was selected to be a part of the first cohort of the Udall Foundation’s Native American Congressional Internship Program in Washington, D.C.”

See also Helen Wang on translation.

Translated YA of 2017: A Year-End Roundup of the Latest Titles by Jenny Zbrizher from YALSA’s The Hub. Peek:

“Help your teens expand their personal borders by checking out the titles below.”

See also Zetta Elliot’s 2017 MG & YA Titles by African Americans.

Writing Craft

What Does Your Protagonist Want Before the Story Starts? by Lisa Cron from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“All protagonists enter the story already wanting something very badly. With that in mind, here are four questions to ask to be sure that your protagonist has a driving need that’s capable of steering your novel from start to finish:”

Harnessing the Kinetic Energy of Writing, and What Happens if You Don’t by Heather Webb from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“As creators, we have kinetic energy while writing, and kinetic energy while we aren’t, but it’s what you do with that energy that helps you be the best (and healthiest!) writer you can be.”

Stripping Down My Prose: Risking the Removal of Adjectives by Margaret McNellis from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“I expected that removing all the adjectives and adverbs from my text would tighten my writing, but I didn’t think about how it would make it more active and exciting.”

Neal Shusterman on World Building by Amanda Nelson from Book Riot. Peek:

“As hard as it was, I stopped trying to build worlds and learned how to build characters and relationships and stories. And I discovered that I loved it. I loved getting into people’s heads as much as I enjoyed wild fantasy.”

I Entered VCFA’s MFA Program Because I Had a Lot to Learn As a Fiction Writer by Kim Purcell from YA Interrobang. Peek:

“But the truth is, I had a lot to learn as a fiction writer. My former background and training was as a journalist, so I wasn’t using all the tools of fiction that I could have been using. Honestly, I didn’t even know about them.”


Pitching For Introverts by Hilda Eunice Burgos from Project Mayhem. Peek:

“Those of you who are also introverts may find the following networking tips (tweaked to apply to pitches) helpful.”

Lessons Learned from a Year of 101 Rejections by Natalie D-Napoleon from Writer’s Digest. Peek:

“Orenstein opened my eyes to one impressive fact—that women submit their work less than men. …When white men’s work is rejected, they don’t take it as a measure of the worth of their work—they decide it simply needs to find the right home elsewhere.” 

We’re All in This Together by Shutta Crum from The Mitten. Peek:

“Below is a short list of easy things to lend a hand to our fellow writer or illustrator. What you do just might be the break a colleague needs.”

Owning Your Writing Career in 2018 by Sacha Black from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“If you want to make 2018 the year you finally stick to your writing goals, then be clear what you want from the outset. Give yourself slippage time, study hard, try new things, get out of your comfort zone, and get yourself an accountability partner for support and the occasional nudge.”

Sexual Harrassment in the Children’s Book Industry: Survey Results by Anne Ursu from Medium. Peek:

“Again and again in this survey, I found women who left jobs, avoided conferences, avoided networking opportunities, stopped writing, stopped illustrating, either because they couldn’t bear seeing their harasser again, or because they were afraid something like that could happen again.”

See Change Starts Now: Stand Against Harassment in the YA/Kidlit Community from Gwenda Bond. Peek: “I’d…like to send the letter below to YA and kidlit specific festivals and organizations and to the heads of publishing houses with as many names attached to it as possible. If you would like to sign on….” See also The SCBWI Anti-Harassment Policy and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

Game of Thrones Author George R.R. Martin Is Funding a Scholarship For Aspiring Fantasy Authors by Kristian Wilson from Bustle. Peek:

George R.R. Martin is funding a scholarship for science-fiction and fantasy writers at the Clarion West Writers Workshop. The ‘Worldbuilder’ scholarship will cover the cost of one six-week workshop course for one student each year and will take into account a student’s talent and financial need.”

Kwame Alexander Will Start His Own Imprint. The Name? Versify. Get It? by Alexandra Alter from The New York Times. Peek:

Mr. Alexander said he’s especially interested in books that incorporate poetry, as well as works in translation. ‘Verse is a really great way to tell emotionally heavy stories,’ he said.”

Penguin Young Readers Announces Imprint for Diverse Books by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Diversity will be addressed across a broad spectrum of human experiences, she noted. To that end, Kokila books will not just be written through the lens of race or ethnicity, but also sexuality, religion, ability, and other markers.”

A Publicity Course for Published and Published Authors and Illustrators from Debbie Gonzales. Note: faculty includes Blue Slip Media’s Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy, The Booking Biz’s Carmen Oliver, author Carrie Pearson and author Jo Whittemore. Peek:

Path to Promotion is an online collaborative program designed to share promotional information and techniques, to guide in the publicity  preparation process, and to clarity steps required to create an affordable marketing platform that is personal, authentic, and professionally sound. We’ll be exploring topics such as podcasting, the school/library market, creating a digital footprint, and others. At the end of the course, participants will receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in their quest to make a splash in the world.”

See also Deb Gonzales on Book Promotion Class from Janet Fox.

Cynsational Screening Room

Spooky-romantic news! This month only, you can read my most popular YA love story, Eternal, for only $1.99 by signing up for Candlewick Press’s E-Volt Books newsletter. Eternal is technically Book 2 in the Tantalize series, but you can begin with either of the first two books. The casts crossover in Book 3 (Blessed), which then moves forward through the timeline.

“…witty, dark love story of death and redemption…Miranda and Zachary are complex, sympathetic characters, and their hopeful ending is well earned.” — Booklist

“The confessional style, alternating between Miranda and Zachary’s points of view, is intriguing as a diary—readers should be hooked by this fully formed world, up through the action-packed finale.” — Publishers Weekly


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Happy 2018, and welcome back to Cynsations! I’m so excited. It’s going to be a huge year.

Welcome and congratulations to new intern Kate Pentecost, who just sold her debut YA novel, Elysium Girls (Hyperion, winter 2020)! Kate is represented by Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties.

Welcome back to interns Gayleen Rabakukk and Robin Galbraith as well as to Cynsations reporters Carol Coven Grannick, Traci Sorell, Christopher Cheng, Melanie J. Fishbane, and Angela Cerrito! I’m so thrilled to be sharing the posts you’re working on.

Here’s a shout out to Traci on the sale of her second picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, to Penguin’s new Kokila imprint! The book will be illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre.

Kudos to the winners and honorees of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards!

I was thrilled to see that my long-time friend (and VCFA faculty colleague) Uma Krishnaswami won the Asian Pacific Literature Award (Children’s category) for Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh (Tu). See Author Interview: Uma Krishnaswami on the Creative Life, Teaching Writing & Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Gayleeen Rabakukk from Cynsations.

Way to go, Uma! I know that this was a heart book, one long in the making. Congrats, too, to her fellow APALA winners and honorees!

Bravo to those fantastic authors and illustrators recognized by the American Indian Youth Literature Award, given by the American Indian Library Association. I also would like to underscore what Debbie Reese points out, that many of the best books in this category are coming from small presses.

Cheers to Mary Beth Leatherdale and Lisa Charleyboy, finalists for the YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults for #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women (Annick). The book also made the Top 10 Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Fiction.

Speaking of the ALA, huge congratulations to Debbie Reese!

From the media release:

“Debbie Reese will deliver the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Dr. Reese is a longtime advocate for Native representation and is a former teacher and university professor. She earned her PhD in Education from the University of Illinois, where she also helped establish the Native American House and American Indian Studies program. 

“Dr. Reese also holds an M.Ed degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. She is tribally enrolled at Nambe Owingeh Pueblo in New Mexico.”

I cannot emphasize enough how meaningful it is that Debbie’s leadership, scholarship and activism are being formally recognized in this way. I look forward to her lecture.

Congratulations also to Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” Note: Separate from Jackie, who is awesome, I support the movement toward changing the name of the award.

One more shout out–this one to pal Tanya Lee Stone whose Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time (Wendy Lamb) was named to the Top 10 Amelia Bloomer List.

Meanwhile, a critical conversation about sexual harrassment in children’s-YA publishing–and, for that matter, throughout society–has been taking place (see links above).

To those who have been victimized, please accept my solidarity and support. To those who’re having tough conversations and taking proactive steps for corrrective change, thank you for your ongoing efforts.

As for me, the breaking news from Candlewick is that the publication date for my upcoming YA novel, Hearts Unbroken, has been moved up to November and the paperback edition of Feral Pride will release in October! More on all that in the months to come!

VCFA & TCTELA photos @cynthialeitichsmith on Instagram.

What else? In January, I returned to Vermont College of Fine Arts to teach the winter residency in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

It was my great pleasure to lead a workshop with fellow faculty member William Alexander and get to know both visiting writer Elana K. Arnold and visiting author-illustrator Ashley Wolff.

Congratulations to the Trope Busters, our winter 2018 graduates!

The following weekend, I had the honor of delivering a luncheon interview keynote with fellow author Kathi Appelt at the Texas Council of Teachers of Language Arts conference in Galveston. My deepest thanks to TCTELA, Kathi and Cynsations intern Gayleen Rabakukk, who accompanied me on the journey.

Beyond that, I’m celebrating 20 years as a client of Ginger Knowlton, executive vice president at Curtis Brown Ltd. From day one, she’s been an unflaggingly wise, enthusiastic and supportive guide on this tremendous journey of writing for young readers.

With the help of interns Gayleen and Robin, I’m pleased to report that we have almost completely updated my official author site, including its vast children’s-YA literature and writing resources.

I’m also looking forward to LoonSong: A Writer’s Retreat from Sept. 6 to Sept. 10 at Elbow Lake Lodge in Minnesota. Join me, fellow authors Nikki Grimes, Susan Cooper, Bruce Coville, Marion Dane Bauer, Jane Buchanan, Sarah Aronson, Debby Dahl Edwardson, Jenny Meyerhoff, agent Michael Stearns, and an editor TBA. Peek:

“Imagine campfires on the beach, pontoon cruises with some of your favorite writers, casual meet-ups with a noted editor and agent in a setting so beautiful it will take your breath away.”

Link of the Month: 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek from Kheryn Callender:

“There need to be more people of color working in publishing, applying for internships and assistant positions, to help acquire stories that might not otherwise be acquired. Just this past weekend, I and another editor realized that, in all of the kidlit publishing industry in the United States, there are only eight black acquiring editors, myself included. This is horrible, and needs to change—but it can only change with your help!”